Ken Shelton, Master Kentucky Rifle Artisan



Ken displays one of his rifle's.

Ken displays one of his rifle’s.

Unique carving by Ken

Unique carving by Ken

Gladys K. Lujan

SaddleBrooke, as we all know, is home to a very large group of talented individuals – musicians, artists, ceramicists, jewelers, writers, et alia. But there is one exceptional talent of which I was never aware until my husband Jerry and I became friendly with Ken Shelton – that of a master designer and creator of Kentucky long rifles. Ken’s talent has been recognized far and wide not only in the United States but around the world. He recently was inducted into the world’s largest hunting and wildlife conservation organization’s Muzzle Loading Hall of Fame, only the fifth person to be so honored at that time. As was described in a magazine article about Ken some time ago, “The Kentucky rifle is considered by most historians to be one of the earliest American art forms. The Kentucky evolved first in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania from the German jaeger rifle when the untamed wilderness demanded increased range and accuracy. The stout and larger-caliber jaeger slowly developed into the slim and graceful Kentucky rifle.” Having a rifle such as this is a joy to any gun collector who takes pride in their collection. Luckily for them, there are sites similar to Smartguncleaning that can help them to maintain their collection ensuring that they can show future generations a piece of the past.

Ken’s roots are solidly Kentucky, having attended high school and college in western Kentucky, graduating with a BA degree from Murray State University and with a Master’s from Morehead State University. He moved to SaddleBrooke in 1998 after enjoying a career with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (no surprise there!). He set up his shop (K.L. Shelton Custom Kentucky Rifles) shortly thereafter, which also sold other forms of hunting equipment, from outerwear to the kind of binoculars reviewed on As Ken tells it, these rifles gained fame and the name Kentucky in the hands of Daniel Boone, Simon Kenton and other frontiersmen who explored the Kentucky wilderness. His work has been featured in international magazines and The 2002 Edition of the Complete Black Powder Handbook by Sam Fadala. Additionally, Channel 13 aired a piece featuring Ken in 2015.

Ken has been building rifles, pistols and fowlers (for hunting birds) since 1976, each piece being considered a distinctive piece of art. From 150 to 200 hours of work go into each gun. To date Ken has built and sold more than 80 of his individually crafted (and highly-prized) guns to collectors and hunters from around the world and as far away as Botswana, Africa. Once a year Ken attends a convention either in Las Vegas or Reno (Safari Club International Hunters Convention) where he accepts commissions for up to five guns (the most he can do in one year). He often has a waiting list of up to two years.

A typical Shelton rifle is carved from tiger-stripe maple following the same steps used by the original craftsmen. Particular care is given to wood-to-metal fit, resulting in a handcrafted classic that will endure for generations. All guns bear Ken’s signature on the top flat of the barrel. In Ken’s words, “a typical K.L. Shelton rifle is exemplified by a tiger-stripe maple stock with octagon barrel ranging from 36 to 42 inches and calibers ranging from 32 to 58. I can make it specific to the desire of the customer, too. I get a lot of people who have researched rifles scopes and want a rifle to match their desired scope, so I have to do that a lot. The customer also chooses caliber, barrel length and specific component parts. Each piece can be personalized by incise carving, wire inlay, engraving or relief carving – the latter being the most demanding.”

In the photos accompanying this article, the reader can appreciate the beauty of the Shelton carving and engraving on each rifle. The cost of one of Ken’s rifles is in a range between $4,000 and $9,000.

In his leisure moments Ken enjoys golf and, of course, hunting – especially deer, elk and turkey – with one of his flintlock guns. To no one’s surprise Ken hunts not only for sport but for enjoyment of the fruits of his hunting skill. To wife Jackie’s delight, he does his own cleaning of his kill on the kitchen counter and even does some of his own cooking!

It is obvious in watching Ken apply his extraordinary skill in his workshop with exquisite precision and technique that one is watching a man for whom his work is enduringly a labor of love.

More can be seen of Ken’s work by visiting his website